White House to unveil efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks

The White House on Tuesday will unveil the first-ever federal fuel efficiency standards for a range of heavy-duty trucks, a move the administration is casting as a key part of its plan to cut foreign oil imports and slash harmful air pollution.

The planned announcement comes amid growing economic uncertainty and increasing jitters on Wall Street. The Obama administration is expected to argue that the standards will result in major benefits to the ailing economy.

The standards mark the latest effort by the Obama administration to ratchet up vehicle fuel-economy rules. Late last month, Obama announced a plan to set an average standard of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 for cars and light-duty trucks. The standard builds on rules finalized last year for model-year 2012-2016 cars and light-duty trucks.

Obama initially was to travel to Interstate Moving Services in Springfield, Va., to unveil the efficiency standards, but the White House on Tuesday canceled the trip. A White House aide told The Hill the truck efficiency standards will still be released on Tuesday. 

Similar to how previous fuel-efficiency rules were made, the Obama administration worked closely with industry groups to develop the heavy-duty truck standards. Navistar, Volvo, Chrysler, Conway and others all support the standards, the official said.

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Democrats are expected to make energy policy a central component of their jobs agenda. Obama will travel to an advanced battery facility in Holland, Mich., later this week to tout the role of energy technology in “spurring economic growth and creating high-quality domestic jobs in cutting-edge industries across America,” according to the White House.

Senior administration officials touted the economic benefits of the standards Monday ahead of the announcement. While the necessary upgrades could cost as much as $2,220 for some trucks, the officials stressed that consumers will save many more thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle. 

Overall, the standards, which affect model-year 2014 to 2018 heavy-duty trucks, will save 530 million barrels of oil and result in “significant” public health benefits, one senior administration official said. 

The rules impose different standards on three categories of vehicles, according to the senior administration official.

Big rigs and semi-trucks must achieve a 23 percent reduction in fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018.

Heavy-duty pickup trucks and vans must achieve a 10 to 15 percent reduction in fuel economy and a 12 to 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by model year 2018, depending on whether they run on gasoline or diesel fuel.

Delivery trucks, buses and garbage trucks must reduce their fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by 9 percent by model year 2018. 

Environmental and clean air groups have been eagerly anticipating the standards, which were set in motion last year after Obama signed a memo on the issue.

Natural Resources Defense Council vehicles analyst Luke Tonachel said heavy-duty trucks are a major source of unchecked air pollution. 

Medium- and heavy-duty trucks make up about 4 percent of the total vehicles on the road in the United States, but they account for about 20 percent of oil used and 20 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by the transportation sector.

“They’re really the energy hogs of American highways,” Tonachel said.

He praised the administration for its efforts to ratchet up vehicle fuel economy standards and argued that the new rules will offer major economic benefits.

“Collectively, this is the biggest single step the administration can take to cut our oil dependence and cut carbon pollution,” Tonachel said. “All of these standards provide businesses with the certainty they need to invest, and the investment leads to innovation, and that innovation leads to jobs.”

This story was updated at 9:43 a.m.